On Friday, a 9 year old girl told me “I’ve never seen you as a role model!” and I was taken aback by this. Now, I understand she probably didn’t mean it, because she doesn’t have a filter and was just saying whatever came to her mind, but it still got me thinking. I thought about my impact on the younger kids that I interact with, both at work and when I was in high school, and who my role models are.
I’d like to think that I was a good influence on the kids I went to school with. In high school, I did all my work on time, got straight A’s and respected my teachers, but I still had time to have fun in class, make jokes and hang out after school. I don’t really know if they realized that I was a good student or not, I hope they realized through me that you could not be a “nerd” or be “lame” while still getting honors level grades. A lot of the kids I went to high school with would call famous sports stars or celebrities their role models, which isn’t a bad thing in of itself. The bad part is which role model you choose, now I understand Micheal Jordan or Bill Gates, they are great men in and out of their professional lives; it’s when it gets to people like Micheal Vick or (not to be cliche) Snooki become the face that our youth look to for guidance, it is sickening. These people haven’t earned an ounce of my respect and are definitely not the people that I want our children looking up to. Kids used to always look up to great minds and great people, imagine how many Micheal Jordan or Neil Armstrong posters were up in childrens bedrooms in the 20th century.Think about this: when was the last time you saw a kid call a scientist their hero, but also think about when was the last time you heard a name behind any of the great scientific discoveries? Our culture has given up on good role models.
I’ve been working with grade school age kids off and on for 3 years now, both in high school and now in my job as a camp counselor. I hope that my attempts at being a good role model for these kids are working, because I’ve not had many good ones in my life. I try to show them that as long as you get your work done, you can have fun too. I grew up around truck drivers and deadbeats in Portland, constantly swearing and influencing me in the worst possible ways. People do not understand that every action you take around people who look up to you, even minutely, is going to influence them in some way, for better or worse. I remember seeing my dad smoke pot, my mom get wasted and their friends smoke cigarettes, and thinking “Why would anyone do that? I don’t want to be like that”. I understand that by thinking that I become an outlier, the usual tendency is to think that it is cool and envy their sweet adult privileges.
But what the hell is wrong with being an outlier? If we didn’t have outliers, we wouldn’t have all of the scientific discoveries that we have today, from outliers like Einstein, Newton or Tesla. Most people’s role models are outliers, be that through athletics, literature or any other kind of subject, really. The best way to choose role models is to not choose them at all, you simply do the things that your interested in and you will inevitably come upon the people that you relate to, that you can strive to be like, and try to surpass. A role model shouldn’t be someone that you want to be just like, or just as good as; you should see what that person accomplished, or how they did, and look to do it your own way and be more successful. A role model shouldn’t be a checklist or a blueprint, they should be a suggestion box or a Lego direction booklet; they should inspire you to be better, a better person, a better athlete, a better writer, a better whatever.
Find a good role model, then be a good role model.